Driving in New Zealand

  • New Zealand Driving
  • Drivers Licence
  • Fuel
  • Road Rules
  • Drivers Safety
  • What's Different about Driving in New Zealand?

Driving is a popular ways to explore New Zealand. Having the flexibility to spontaneously follow your desires, or the advice of someone you met along the way, sits well with our relaxed pace of life. The scenery changes at almost every turn, as our well-formed roads follow the contours of the landscapes. Outside of the cities, most highways have just one lane in each direction, occasionally expanding to two lanes to enable safe overtaking. Driving times are often longer than you'd expect. Allow plenty of time so you can relax and enjoy the journey. To estimate times go to our Driving Time and Distance Calculator

You could try combining car rental with the accommodation of your choice. Alternatively for the highest level of freedom, try a motorhome holiday.

New Zealand highways are generally of a high standard; main highways are sealed and offer no difficulty for motorists from overseas. Those routes not sealed are usually well graded and maintained. Visiting drivers can generally expect to average 80-100km per hour during a days drive.

Though New Zealand is a relatively small country, you should allow plenty of time as there is so much to see and do. If seeing both islands - allow at least 21 days, and you will have a much more relaxed trip, allowing time for stops. If you have 14 days or less, then concentrate on only one Island, and you will have a much more enjoyable trip.

Drivers Licence

You can legally drive in New Zealand for up to 12 months if you have either a current driver's licence from your home country or an International Driving Permit (IDP). After 12 months you are required to convert to a New Zealand licence. This applies to each visit to New Zealand.

In New Zealand all drivers, including visitors from other countries, must carry their licence or permit at all times when driving. You will only be able to drive the same types of vehicles you are licensed to drive in your home country. The common legal age to rent a car in New Zealand is 21 years.

Make sure your driver's licence is current. If your licence is not in English, you must bring an English translation with you or obtain an International Drivers Licence. Contact your local automobile club for further details about obtaining a translation or an International Drivers Licence.

Australian Provisional Drivers Licence

This licence will allow them to drive vehicles of equivalent classes to those listed on their licence. They're required to drive according to the conditions of their overseas licence, however they are not required to display "P" plates. However none of the major Rental Car and Motorhome Rental companies will accept Provisional Drivers Licences. They all require a Full Drivers Licence.


Petrol is normally about 30-40% dearer than diesel in New Zealand. However the government instead charges a Diesl Fuel Tax Surcharge based on the number of kilometres charged, and the size of the vehicle. Some (but not all) motorhome companies charge this tax on at the end of the rental, however it tends to be much less than the savings over petrol vehicles. Even with the tax, it can mean significant savings when hiring diesel motorhomes, instead of those with petrol engines. So it is often better to hire a larger diesel vehicle with a higher daily rental cost, but save on the fuel costs, and receive significantly better room and comfort. To obtain the latest fuel prices go to PriceWatch website.

Road Rules

New Zealand drivers drive on the left hand side of the road. Drivers give way (or yield) to all traffic crossing or approaching from the right. 

The speed limit is 100 km/h on the open road, and 50 km/h in urban areas.

Both drivers and passengers must wear a seat belt in both the front and back. Child restraints must be worn by all children under 7 years of age when travelling in cars or motorhomes. Children from their 7th birthday to 8th birthday must either user a child restraint; or if not available a seat belt.

Do not drink alcohol before driving, as drinking and driving laws are strictly enforced.

Check out the rule difference in the multilingual Driving in New Zealand booklet, which has sections written in English, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Simplified & traditional Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai and Arabic.

Driving Safety

Never drive if you are feeling tired, especially after a long flight. We recommend booking a hotel for the first night, and picking up a car the next morning. Many car rental companies will either pick you up from your hotel, or deliver your car there.

Although New Zealand is a relatively small country, driving can take longer than expected. Although roads are generally well maintained, they can sometimes be windy, hilly terrain, with narrow roads.

What's Different about Driving in New Zealand?

There are a few rules that may be different to how you would drive at home. Recently there has been a spate of accidents caused by tourists and the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) and Police are cracking down on visiting drivers that don’t know the road rules. In some cases the hire contract with the rental car company has been cancelled, leaving the holidaymaker without a car.

A simple way to help tourists to New Zealand reduce their risk of accidents is the free tourist driving quiz at the Driving Tests website. It has a selection of official questions from NZTA and is recommended by large rental vehicle agencies such as Hertz, Maui and Britz.